A Timeline of Neuroscience

An appendix to the Bibliography on Mind and to my book on Cognitive Science

by piero scaruffi | Contact



1590: Rudolph Goeckel's "Psychologia" introduces the word "psychology" for the discipline that studies the soul
1649: Pierre Gassendi's "Syntagma philosophiae Epicuri" argues that beasts have a cognitive life of their own, just inferior to humans
1664: Rene Descartes' "Treatise of Man" argues that the pineal gland is the main seat of consciousness (Great Minds Series):
1664: Thomas Willis' "Cerebral Anatomy" (1664) describes the different structures in the brain and coins the word "neurology"
1741: Emanuel Swedenborg's "The Economy of the Animate Kingdom" discusses cortical localization in the brain
1771: Luigi Galvani discovers that nerve cells are conductors of electricity
1796: Franz-Joseph Gall begins lecturing on phrenology, holding that mental faculties are localized in specific brain regions (of which 19 are shared with animals and 8 are exclusive to humans)
1824: Pierre Flourens' "Phrenology Examined" discredits Gall
1825: Jean-Baptiste Bouillaud's "Clinical and Physiological Treatise upon Encephalitis" describes patients who suffered brain lesions and lost their speech ability
1836: Marc Dax's "Lesions of the Left Half of the Brain Coincident With the Forgetting of the Signs of Thought" notes that aphasic patients (incapable of speaking) have sustained damage to the left side of the brain
1861: Paul Broca's "Loss of Speech, Chronic Softening and Partial Destruction of the Anterior Left Lobe of the Brain" single-handedly resurrects the theory of cortical localization of function
1865: Paul Broca's "Localization of Speech in the Third Left Frontal Convolution" suggests that the location of speech must be in the left hemisphere
1868: John Hughlings Jackson's "Notes on the Physiology and Pathology of the Nervous System" reports how damage to the right hemisphere impairs spatial abilities
1870: Eduard Hitzig and Gustav Fritsch discover the location of the motor functions in the brain, and that the right hemisphere controls the left side of the body and viceversa
1872: Robert Visher coins the term "empathy"
1873: Jean-Martin Charcot's "Lectures on the Diseases of the Nervous System" describes the neural origins of multiple sclerosis
1873: Camillo Golgi's "On the Structure of the Brain Grey Matter" describes the body of the nerve cell with a single axon and several dendrites
1874: Karl Wernicke determines that sensory aphasia (a loss of linguistic skills) is related to damage to the left temporal lobe
1874: Charles-Edouard Brown-Sequard's "Dual Character of the Brain" argues that education does not adequately target the right hemisphere
1876: John Hughlings Jackson discovers that loss of spatial skills is related to damage to the right hemisphere
1876: David Ferrier's "The Functions of the Brain" provides a map of brain regions specialized in motor, sensory and association functions
1890: Wilhelm His coins the word "dendrite"
1891: Santiago Ramon y Cajal proves that the nerve cell (the neuron) is the elementary unit of processing in the brain, receiving inputs from other neurons via the dendrites and sending its output to other neurons via the axon
1891: Wilhelm von Waldeyer coins the term "neuron" while discussing Santiago Ramon y Cajal's theory
1896: Albrecht von Kolliker coins the word "axon"
1897: Charles Sherrington coins the word "synapse"
1901: Charles Sherrington maps the motor cortex of apes
1903: Alfred Binet's "intelligent quotient" (IQ) test
1905: Keith Lucas demonstrates that below a certain threshold of stimulation a nerve does not respond to a stimulus and, once the threshold is reached, the nerve continues to respond by the same fixed amount no matter how strong the stimulus is
1906: Charles Sherrington's "The Integrative Action of the Nervous System" argues that the cerebral cortex is the center of integration for cognitive life
1911: Edward Thorndike's connectionism (the mind is a network of connections and learning occurs when elements are connected)
1921: Otto Loewi demonstrated chemical transmission of nerve impulses, proving that nerves can excite muscles via chemical reactions (notably acetylcholine) and not just electricity
1924: Hans Berger records electrical waves from the human brain, the first electroencephalograms
1924: Konstantin Bykov, performing split-brain experiments on dogs, discovers that severing the corpus callosum disables communications between the two brain hemispheres
1924: Hans Berger records electrical waves from the human brain, the first electroencephalograms
1925: Edgar Adrian shows that the message from one neuron to another neuron is conveyed by changes in the frequency of the discharge, the first clue on how sensory information might be coded in the neural system
1925: Constantin von Economo discover the spindle neurons later renamed Von Economo Neurons (VENs)
1928: Otfried Foerster stimulates the brain of patients during surgery with electric probes
1933: Henry Dale coins the terms "adrenergic" and "cholinergic" to describe the nerves releasing the two fundamental classes of neurotransmitters, the adrenaline-like one and acetylcholine
1935: Wilder Penfield explains how to stimulate the brain of epileptic patients with electrical probes ("Epilepsy and Surgical Therapy")
1936: Jean Piaget's "The Origins of Intelligence in Children"
1940: Willian Van Wagenen performs "split brain" surgery to control epileptic seizures
1949: Donald Hebb's cell assemblies (selective strengthening or inhibition of synapses causes the brain to organize itself into regions of self-reinforcing neurons - the strength of a connection depends on how often it is used)

1951: Roger Sperry's "chemoaffinity theory" of synapse formation explains how the nervous system organizes itself during embryonic development via a genetically-determined chemical matching program

1951: Wilder Penfield and Herbert Jasper publish a map of brain regions ("Epilepsy and the Functional Anatomy of the Human Brain") and prove that electrical stimulation of the temporal lobes can yield vivid recall of lost memories

1952: Paul Maclean discovers the "limbic system"

1952: Alan Hodgkin and Andrew Huxley discover how action potentials in neurons are propagated
1953: John Eccles' "The Neurophysiological Basis of Mind" describes excitatory and inhibitory potentials, the two fundamental changes that occur in neurons

1953: Roger Sperry and Ronald Meyers study the "split brain" in animals
1953: Eugene Aserinsky discovers "rapid eye movement" (REM) sleep that corresponds with periods of dreaming
1954: Rita Levi-Montalcini discover nerve-growth factors that help to develop the nervous system, thus proving Sperry's chemoaffinity theory
1957: Vernon Mountcastle discovers the modular organization of the brain (vertical columns)
1957: William Scoville publishes a study about a patient, Henry Molaison, incapable of forming new memories after surgery removed his hippocampus
1959: Michel Jouvet discovers that REM sleep originates in the pons

1962: David Kuhl invents SPECT (single photon emission computer tomography)
1962: David Hubel's and Torsten Wiesel's "Receptive Fields, Binocular Interactive and Functional Architecture in the Cat's Visual Cortex"
1962: Roger Sperry and Michael Gazzaniga discover that the two hemispheres of the human brain are specialized in different functions
1964: John Young proposes a "selectionist" theory of the brain (learning is the result of the elimination of neural connections)
1964: Paul Maclean's triune brain: three layers, each layer corresponding to a different stage of evolution ("Man and his Animal Brains")
1964: Lueder Deecke and Hans-Helmut Kornhuber discover an unconscious electrical phenomenon in the brain, the Bereitschaftspotential (readiness potential)
1964: Benjamin Libet discovers that the readiness potential precedes conscious awareness by about half a second
1968: Niels Jerne's selectionist model of the brain (mental life a continuous process of environmental selection of concepts in our brain - the environment selects our thoughts)

1972: Raymond Damadian builds the world's first Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine
1972: Jonathan Winson discovers a correlation between the theta rhythm of dreaming and long-term memory
1972: Godfrey Hounsfield and Allan Cormack invent computed tomography scanning or CAT-scanning
1973: Edward Hoffman and Michael Phelps create the first PET (positron emission tomography) scans that allow scientists to map brain function
1973: JeanPierre Changeux's "selective stabilization" theory
1975: Norman Geschwind writes that temporal-lobe epileptics often have religious experiences
1974: David Premack and Guy Woodruff introduce the concept of "theory of mind" ("Does the chimpanzee have a theory of mind?")
1977: Allan Hobson's theory of dreaming
1977: First issue of Cognitive Science journal
1978: Gerald Edelman's theory of neuronal group selection or "Neural Darwinism"
1985: Michael Gazzaniga's "interpreter" (a module located in the left brain interprets the actions of the other modules and provides explanations for our behavior)

1988: Bernard Baars' "global workspace"
1989: Wolf Singer and Christof Koch discover that at, any given moment, very large number of neurons oscillate in synchrony and one pattern is amplified into a dominant 40 Hz oscillation (gamma synchronization)
1989: First issue of the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
1989: The Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience begins publication
1990: Seiji Ogawa's "functional MRI" measures brain activity based on blood flow
1994: Vilayanur Ramachandran proves the plasticity of the adult human brain
1994: First issue of the Journal of Consciousness Studies and first Toward a Science of Consciousness conference
1996: Giacomo Rizzolatti discovers that the brain uses "mirror" neurons to represent what others are doing
1996: Rodolfo Llinas: Neurons are always active endlessly producing a repertory of possible actions, and the circumstances "select" which specific action is enacted

1997: Japan opens the Brain Science Institute near Tokyo
1998: Stanislas Dehaene's "global neuronal workspace"
2004: Zhuo-Hua Pan injects channelrhodopsin into the neurons of a live animal causing electrical activity with light (birth of optogenetics)
2004: Giulio Tononi's "integrated information theory"
2005: Pascal Fries shows that neuronal communication is implemented via neuronal synchronization
2008: Nicholas Schiff's "Central Thalamic Contributions to Arousal. Regulation and Neurological Disorders of Consciousness"
2009: The USA launches the Human Connectome Project to map the human brain
2009: Sheena Josselyn discovers the engram hypothesized by Karl Lashley
2012: Mark Mayford stores a mouse's memory of a familiar place on a microchip
2013: The European Union launches the Human Brain Project to computer-simulate the human brain
2013: Kwanghun Chung and Karl Deisseroth develop a technique to render brains transparent
2013: Marcello Massimini shows that conscious states involve widespread communication between different specialized regions of the brain

2008: Yoichi Miyawaki's team at the ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Japan extracts visual memories from a person's brain
2011: Susumu Tonegawa's team creates false fear memories in mice using optogenetics
2013: Madeline Lancaster and Juergen Knoblich create brain tissue ("cerebral organoids")
2014: Sergiu Pasca creates three-dimensional neural cultures ("human cortical spheroids") from stem cells
2014: Yoshiki Sasai creates neurons of the cerebellum from embryonic stem cells
Reading material: